Shanty-Tok and the Growing Popularity of Sailing Music on Social Media

“There once was a ship that put to sea

And the name of that ship was the Billy o’ Tea

The winds blew hard, her bow dipped down

Blow, me bully boys, blow”

If you read these words in the melody of the newly popularized “Wellerman” sea shanty, then you are probably a part of the millions of other people who have come on board to sea shanty Tik Tok.

Tik Tok in Quarantine

Tik Tok Logo

In the past year, while people around the world have been stuck in their houses, Tik Tok grew exponentially in popularity. According to an article from CNBC, Tik Tok’s monthly active users in the U.S. alone has gone up nearly 800% since January of 2018. This is in no small part to the mandatory quarantines around the country. From December 2019 to July 2020 alone the number of global users grew from almost 508,000,000 to approximately 689,000,000. Despite attempts by former U.S. President Donald Trump to ban the popular social media app, it has soared in popularity. Tik Tok not only became a popular pass time to watch videos, but also a creative outlet for people who missed social contact with others. From comedy skits to full on drama series, Tik Tok users found their niches and learned to capitalize on finding others with similar interests. One particular category that flourished over this Coronavirus era was music.

Musicians on Tik Tok

Many people have found themselves making music from home.

2020 was a year that many artists found online success. A necessity for online entertainment combined with raw unexplored talent led audiences on a seamlessly endless treasure hunt for new talent and new music. Artists such as Lyn Lapid and Anson Seabra are examples of success stories from Tik Tok in the year 2020 and rolling over into 2021. Lapid has accumulated a following of 3.5 million on Tik Tok and released a song in 2020 she first premiered on her channel as a series of song segments. Her song “Producer Man” is wildly popular, and Mr. Seabra has grown to 1.8 million followers on Tik Tok and was able to release a song he first premiered on his channel called “Walked Through Hell” which has since spawned many duets as well as gained popularity for his other music. He even found himself on a billboard in the middle of times square. Alongside these social media pop stars, a new kind of star has grown along with a new genre of music: Sea Shanties.

What is a Sea Shanty?

Sea shanties can be traced back as early as the 1400’s from old merchant sailing ships. Shanties were originally working songs that helped keep sailors in sync as they performed their various manual labor tasks around the ship. The rhythm of the song being sung would direct the pace at which the work would get done. These work songs were often call-and-response in nature as the leader “shantyman” would sing the verses and lead the rest of the crew to join in on the choruses. There were normally two kinds of shanties depending on the work that had to be done. Capstan shanties were sung to keep rhythmic work up to speed. An example of this work is pulling up the heavy anchor. A pulling, or “long drag”, shanty was meant to accompany work that was rhythmic but also required pauses, such as hoisting the sails. These songs were sung so often that the sailors automatically knew which syllable of each line to move with like a well-oiled machine. Sea shanties became widely popular in recent years after the release of “Assassins Creed: Black Flag”. However, in the past year and a half, there has been a renewal of interest. A sea shanty renaissance, if you will.

Sailors working on a task that would require a pulling or “long drag” shanty.

Sea Shanty Tik Tok

The Longest Johns Album of sea shanties

Tik Tok users and popular Bristol based a capella folk music band The Longest Johns are known for their renditions of Sea Shanties such as the popular “Wellerman” and the well-known “Drunken Sailor”. Their posts on Tik Tok of various maritime songs whilst working on projects launched an all-out phenomenon of newfound love for the old whaling tunes. This phenomenon spawned artists such as Sam Pope and Nathan Evans. Sam pope started out making sea shanty videos that requested duets. These videos featured Pope starting a song and establishing a beat, then having the duet-er sing the next verse, all while displaying the lyrics over his videos. This eventually led to him duetting his own videos to achieve a full harmony rendition of the shanty. Naturally, his videos continued to evolve and now he takes popular pop and hip-hop songs and turns them into sea shanties. This has helped him grow a fan base of over 440,000. A more well-known story is that of Nathan Evans from Scotland. There has always been a popularity of Scottish singers on Tik Tok due to the unique sound that their native inflections add to the lyrics. Combine that with the popularity of sea shanties and you really have something going. Mr. Evans gained enough popularity online to quit his job as a postman and pursue a career as a musical artist. He was even featured in an article in the New York Times.

All-in-all, a sea shanty has everything people look for in popular music. A heavy steady beat (usually the singers kicking a bass drum or banging on a table) creates an atmosphere perfect for nodding your head to. Easy to follow melodies that are simple to follow and repeat allow audiences to grasp on from the first lesson and encourages them to duet and interact with it. These melodies are often in a call and response manner, which further brings the listener in and invites them to sing along. Layered harmonies of the responses created by collaborations (whether it be a creator interacting with their own videos, or other creators duetting them) echo those of popular groups on the app such as Earcandyofficial. Tight knit harmonies produced over multiple videos is an impressive feat that is very often recognized on Tik Tok. When combined with the other features of sea shanties, a communal sonic experience is formed which the listener does not want to leave.

Sources and Links

Professional music instructor focused on analyzing musical concepts and trends in popular music.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store